January 11, 2006.
Arizona Republic - Phoenix,AZ,USA.
Arizona gave the go-ahead Tuesday for drivers with severe vision impairments to get behind the wheel, aided by a miniature telescope to help them see the road ahead.
A rule change approved through the Arizona Department of Transportation will allow these drivers, estimated to be in the hundreds, to achieve a special license with the use of bi-optic telescopes.
The new license applies to drivers with "low vision," meaning their sight is hampered to the extent that traditional eyeglasses, contacts or surgery are insufficient to give them the vision necessary to drive.
For Arizona residents who up to now have been limited to the passenger seat, the new license opens a world of freedom and possibility.
Proponents say the rule change will not threaten the safety of other drivers. With the specialized equipment, they say, vision-impaired drivers will meet the same sight requirements as anyone else and are no more likely to be involved in a crash.
"I am for it totally," said Dr. Lynne Noon, who called herself the state's only low-vision expert and has offices in Mesa and Sun City. "This is something I've wanted for my patients for many years."
The special lenses look somewhat like ones jewelers use to take a closer look at diamonds. The equipment resembles a miniature telescope that is mounted to eyeglasses above the normal center of gaze. Drivers peer through the bottom half of the spectacles for normal driving and dip their head to peer through the telescope portion to see traffic signals and other objects in the distance.
Noon noted that bi-optic driving already is allowed in 38 other states.
To achieve the Arizona license, applicants using the bi-optic telescope must have a physician's signature verifying they have vision of 20/40 or better in at least one eye and pass an annual eye examination.
For those receiving the license for the first time, a behind-the-wheel test with a driving instructor is required.
Vision loss is becoming a major public health problem as America ages, but Noon said she doesn't expect a flood of applicants for the new license. Many people with sight impairment will be hesitant, she said, and those with cognitive or reflex problems won't make good candidates.
Approval by ADOT's Medical Advisory Board and the Governor's Regulatory Review Council allows the new rule to go into effect Friday, with the bi-optic licenses available within weeks.
Charlie Wise plans to be first in line.
The 25-year-old Apache Junction man suffers from optic atrophy, a condition he was born with that has left him with 20/160 vision. He grew up in Arizona and began leading efforts for a special driver's license for residents like himself when his 16th birthday came and went without the traditional rite of passage: a license.
Wise took his first effort to the Legislature in 1997 but says he thinks it failed when lawmakers became gun-shy. He moved to Colorado to attend college a couple of years later because the state is one that allows bi-optic driving.
While out of state, Wise continued pushing for a special Arizona license. But rather than working through the Legislature, he began lobbying for an administrative rule change through ADOT.
With that change now in place, Wise is making plans that would be next-to-impossible without a driver's license.
He is working on his real estate license.
"I'm really excited," Wise said. "It's opening up a lot of doors for me."
Although the notion of sharing the road with him and others may be disconcerting for some, Wise says fear not.
"Honestly, I don't think it's different than any other driver," he said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-4947.
Source URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0111blinddrivers11.html.
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